New rules on asbestos exposure could have a far-reaching impact on businesses. Andrew Langley explains
All business employer-occupiers of property are expected to have further obligations placed on them later this year to ensure that no one working at, or visiting, their buildings is exposed to asbestos fibres by accident.
The extreme importance of this obligation has been highlighted by the recent High Court judgment confirming that the employer is responsible for asbestos-related illness/death to their employees.
Proposed changes to the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations will control the health risks in working inadvertently on materials containing asbestos. This will be achieved by recording all areas where asbestos exists within a property.
Although asbestos is no longer used in construction ? it was banned in November 1999 ? it is still present in many buildings and is at risk from being damaged during refurbishment, demolition, maintenance or repair work.
Asbestos is a very versatile, durable and binding material which has good insulating properties, either to protect against fire damage or to prevent heat loss. It can be found in all areas of buildings and materials including vinyl floor covering as well as artexed ceilings.
However, it is not proposed that asbestos materials in good, safe condition which are not releasing fibres, will need to be removed. Instead, employers must be aware of their presence and prevent anyone from working or carrying out maintenance or building work that may expose them to asbestos fibres.
The regulations? revisions will impose a legal duty on every employer in control of premises to make an assessment if asbestos is present or might be. If it is, the employer will need to prepare a plan to manage the associated health risks.
The revisions will be introduced in the next 12 months and will possibly include a transitional period to enable all occupiers to carry out the surveying, sampling and assessment of asbestos contained in materials in their premises and to produce a management plan.
Three types of survey will need to be undertaken, depending on the property and its proposed future use.
The first and lowest level is a location and assessment survey. Any materials which cannot be categorically confirmed as free from asbestos must be assumed to contain asbestos. The second level of survey will be to take samples from these areas to confirm or refute the presumptions made in the first survey.
The third level will involve making full access and opening up the structure and building elements to establish whether asbestos has been encased or hidden from view.
The third survey will only be required if the building is to be demolished or a major refurbishment undertaken.
Changes to the regulations are imminent, so occupiers and employers should be implementing surveys to protect employees and any workmen on their site. The High Court decision clearly leaves no doubt that the employer is liable for the safety of his employees.
If this is not a sufficient threat by undertaking the survey now, the employer will benefit from cost savings.
The cost of the service will increase once it becomes a statutory requirement.
The aim of the regulations revisions is to ensure that employer occupiers become pro-active, and can avert contamination risks.
Asbestos has been used in buildings since 1900. A naturally occurring mineral fibre with many useful properties, it has been proved to be a cause of cancer and is the main occupational killer in the UK today.
Andrew Langley is head of building surveying and project management at Fuller Peiser, Birmingham